As a boy I remember waking up each morning for family scripture study and coming downstairs with uplifting music playing to help set the tone and provide the right spirit in my home. I learned as a young boy the influence music can have on you emotionally and spiritually. I’m grateful I learned to recognize, appreciate and love worthy music, a gift that has served me well throughout my life.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where good things are constantly under attack. There is a satanic substitute for all that is uplifting and positive. As parents of nine children, my wife and I are constantly aware of how bombarded boys are today with filth, pornography, immorality, and violence, and that often they don’t even realize it. It’s so subtle and shrewd, and has the appearance of normal, that often if we don’t point it out to them they may not see it for what it is. How do we combat this? How can we have a greater influence than everything they see or hear at school, online, on TV, on the radio, or on their phones? Well, there’s not one answer that’s the same for each person. But there’s one thing that my wife and I do constantly that we hope will put the odds in our favor: continue to expose our children, especially our two sons who are the oldest, to worthy and uplifting music that will help them feel the Spirit and draw closer to Jesus Christ.
I still distinctly remember my first rehearsal with MCO as a baritone in the Grand Chorus. It was an all-day boot camp rehearsal where we were taught and trained by the directors. I remember the feeling and Spirit that was there in the rehearsal, and five minutes in, I felt a twinge of sadness. I was sad that I hadn’t auditioned for the choir a few years earlier when my friend had originally invited me. With work, a large and growing family, and other commitments, I dismissed the invitation. I was too busy, didn’t have the time, and didn’t want to put an unnecessary burden on my wife by being gone one night a week for rehearsal. But this time, with a new invitation to audition, I somehow felt differently, and my wife agreed to let me try out. There was something special at this first rehearsal that I had never quite felt before. My sadness changed to pure elation as the rehearsal continued. And it grew and grew that whole first semester with each week that passed as we prepared for the Christmas concerts. I still clearly and distinctly remember the overwhelming Spirit that filled my heart and soul as we sang “O Holy Night”. I had difficulty getting through that song each time we sang it. I remember being so proud to be part of this great movement and was so glad my wife was there to see in person what I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to her for a few months. There were tears in her eyes after as well, and we both knew we wanted our kids to experience this, especially our boys.
My oldest son, Drex, joined the Concert Choir a semester later, then my second son, Braden, a semester after him. And since then, we have been an MCO family, with my two oldest daughters also participating. There is nothing quite like hearing the buzz and chatter of my kids talking about MCO around the home. I hear things like, “Summer is the worst because there’s no MCO” or “There’s no way we can top that concert next semester…except that’s what I said after last concert”. And sometimes I feel bad for my wife and younger children at the dinner table in the weeks right before and after concert time as we rehash the entire experience and discuss our favorite and most memorable parts. MCO has been a binding and unifying light in my family, for which I, as a father, will always be grateful.
And that is especially true for my boys. They have felt the Spirit outside of church and the home, and in a way that only worthy music can provide. They recognize the power of singing sacred texts that serve as a prayer and a testimony of the Savior, whose life and example they strive to follow. They can now discern the difference between how good music makes you feel, and how questionable music drives away the Spirit. They have also shared with me that sacred music helps keep evil thoughts away and replaces them with light and truth, which is one of the reasons they love going to MCO rehearsals each week. They recognize that they need more than just worshipping on Sundays to combat the evil that surrounds them. Boyd K. Packer taught, “As the music begins and as the words form in your thoughts, the unworthy ones will slip shamefully away. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear. For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light.” (Inspiring Music-Worthy Thoughts, October 1973)
My son Braden is naturally athletic and a very good athlete. Last December, after the Christmas concerts, he was invited by coaches to participate in club baseball through his high school. This meant that he would have practice every Tuesday and Thursday night, and games in addition to that. He was very excited that he was asked to participate. But if he decided to play on this team, he would not be able to participate in MCO for that upcoming semester. He was very distraught at making that decision.
I asked him to weigh out the pros and cons of each choice, and then take the matter to the Lord to make his decision, as you can always get the right answer through prayer. Later that night, he came to me and my wife and said, “I trust Professor Stewart. He promised us that if we would participate in MCO this coming semester, our lives would be changed forever. I am putting my trust in Professor Stewart.”
The fascinating part to this story is that we didn’t even know what we would be doing that upcoming semester. But Braden knew what he wanted to do and had faith in his answer. A few weeks later, as last semester started, Professor Stewart announced that we would be singing Mendelsohn’s “Elijah”, a classic and timeless sacred work, as part of the concert entitled “Deliver Us”. Every song practiced for months and sung at the concerts told the story of God’s deliverance of his people through following a prophet of God. These truths could not have been more powerfully delivered into the hearts and minds of my sons than they were through this sacred music. With each rehearsal, their love for the music grew and their excitement to perform it skyrocketed. And the four concerts in two days did not disappoint.
Late that Saturday night after getting home from the final concert, we all stayed up late basking in the Spirit and sheer exhaustion of the previous few days. But it was my son’s comment that I will always remember. Braden said, “Dad…my life has been changed forever. I have no words to describe it.”
And that is the miracle and blessing of MCO. I feel the power of the music each week personally, and to have my kids feel the same thing is something I consider one of my greatest blessings. Braden, just this week, said it perfectly when he shared with me that, “MCO is an amazing blessing in my life. The Spirit is strong there every week. The music puts a good feeling inside me and inspires me to be good.”
So it does.
Cory Mendenhall and his wife, Aprel, are the parents of four children–Leah, Nicholas, Miranda, and Mallory. Mendenhall serves as Dean & Musical Director of Millennial™ Choirs and Orchestras (MCO). His post with MCO has taken him to conduct ensembles in stunning concert halls throughout the West, including Abravanel Hall (Salt Lake City, Utah), Segerstrom Concert Hall (Costa Mesa, California), Meyerson Symphony Center (Dallas, Texas), and Mesa Arts Center (Arizona). In June 2016, Mendenhall and the MCO conducting staff produced a culminating tour performance where thousands of MCO adult and youth singers and a symphony orchestra combined in concert and for a three-day recording session at The Music Center at Strathmore, Washington, D.C. Mendenhall has served as conductor for two of MCO’s albums: To Be American (debuted at #1 on the Traditional Classical Billboard Chart) and Amazing Grace: Songs of Atonement.
Under the direction of Dr. Barlow Bradford, Mendenhall is a candidate for the Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in choral conducting, with cognate studies in orchestral conducting, at the University of Utah.
Mendenhall also served as the Director of Choral Activities at Maple Mountain High School from 2009-2017 in Spanish Fork, Utah, where the choirs earned a celebrated reputation since the school’s opening in 2009. Selected via rigorous audition, Mendenhall conducted the MMHS Choirs and Orchestra in a solo performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589 in New York City’s Carnegie Hall in February 2016, under the direction of Mid America Productions.
Prior to joining MCO, and inaugurating Maple Mountain High School’s renowned choral program, Mendenhall enjoyed a successful six-year tenure as Director of Choral Activities and Performing Arts Department Chair at Provo High School. In March 2009, the PHS Chamber Singers were recognized for their standing-ovation performance in Carnegie Hall as the featured choir in the National High School Choral Festival, under the direction of Field Studies International. Mendenhall also served as Conductor and Artistic Director of the Mapleton Chorale from 2004-2013.
Mendenhall earned a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from Brigham Young University and a Bachelor of Music degree in choral music education from Utah State University, with related studies in organ performance. During his graduate work at BYU, he served as the Assistant Conductor of the BYU Men’s Chorus and conducted the BYU University Chorale. His mentors include Barlow Bradford, Ronald Staheli, Rosalind Hall, Jean Applonie, Will Kesling, Lane Cheney, Douglas Bush, James Drake, Jessica Nápoles, Robert Baldwin, and Jared Rawlings.
Dr. Cherilyn Worthen
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Cherilyn Worthen has dedicated over twenty years to choral arts in Utah. In addition to her post as Associate Musical Director of Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestras, she is the professor of Choral Music Education at Utah Valley University, where she directs the Women’s Choir & Concert Choir. Since 2006 she has served as the director of the Choir School for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, where she oversees the training programs for the newly admitted singers, as well as in-service training for current choir members.
For twelve years Worthen directed the choral music program at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah, where she also served as both a student dean and music department chair. She has conducted the Brigham Young University (BYU) Women’s Chorus and Concert Choir, the Legacy Chorale, and the Deseret Chamber Singers. As a singer, she has performed with Canti con Brio, BYU Singers, the Deseret Chamber Singers, the Temple Square Chorale, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Worthen received a doctorate degree in music education from the University of Utah, in addition to a master’s degree in choral conducting and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Brigham Young University. Worthen is an active member of ACDA, MENC, NCCO, and Chorus America, and has served on the choral committee for the Utah Music Educators Association. She is presently the Repertoire and Standards Chair for Women’s Choirs for ACDA Utah. Her research interests include choral music curriculum, resources, and educational programs for youth and adult singers.
Dr. Joni Jensen
Dr. Joni Jensen is the Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Voice at Texas Woman’s University (Denton, TX). She conducts two TWU choirs and teaches voice, conducting, and choral arranging.
She received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and pedagogy and her master’s degree in choral conducting from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. She received her DMA in choral conducting, minor in vocal performance, at the University of Arizona. Dr. Jensen studied under renowned conductors and arrangers Dr. Mack Wilberg, Dr. Ronald Staheli, and Dr. Bruce Chamberlain. During her doctoral work, she was a semi-finalist in the American Choral Directors Association national graduate conducting competition in Los Angeles, February 2005.
Dr. Jensen has conducted numerous festival and community choirs and serves as a choral clinician and adjudicator throughout the United States. Under her direction, the TWU Concert Choir (women’s chorus) recently performed at the 2012 SWACDA conference in Dallas, TX, and the 2017 NCCO conference in Baton Rouge, LA. Students in her voice studio also consistently achieve success in competitions and leading roles in stage productions. Active as a composer/arranger, she has several pieces published with Walton Music including “El Vito,” which was a Texas All-State piece in 2014. She is also the editor of a brand new series at Hal Leonard for advanced women’s choral music.
Singing in a solo capacity has also been a large part of Dr. Jensen’s career. She has performed in both operatic and concert events and has particular expertise in Baroque music and performance practice.
Aside from her performing and teaching activities, Dr. Jensen has research interests that include vocal pedagogy in the choral setting, choral conducting technique, women’s chorus literature, choral arranging, and the choral music of Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Bach.
Dr. Brent Wells
Associate Dean &
Brent Wells and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of three children. Dr. Wells is the Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music at the College of Idaho. Prior to his appointment at the College of Idaho, he worked in secondary education, directing choral programs at the middle school and high school levels.
He received his DMA in choral conducting at Michigan State University, where he studied conducting and choral methods with David Rayl, Sandra Snow, and Jonathan Reed. He earned his BM in music education and MM in choral conducting at Brigham Young University, where he studied with Ronald Staheli, Mack Wilberg, and Rosalind Hall.
Wells’ scholarship includes a series of articles appearing in the Choral Journal, discussing the folk-based compositions and collecting methodology of Percy Grainger. He also served as guest editor for a Choral Journal focus issue, dedicated to Grainger’s choral works. Additional areas of creative and scholarly work encompass choral diction, leading to Dr. Wells co-authoring the book Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, Volume II: German Texts—IPA Pronunciation Guide, published by earthsongs, and his work as an arranger—focusing primarily on folk and hymn-based compositions.
As a bass vocalist, Dr. Wells has performed as a featured soloist and enjoyed membership in many acclaimed choral ensembles. He has sung professionally with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Tennessee Chamber Chorus, Redlands Choral Artists, and Mount Marty Choral Scholars. He also performed the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5 with the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus under the direction of Robert Spano.
Dean & Founding
Arizona & California
Brandon Stewart and his wife, Heather, are the parents of three children. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Brandon is a conductor, pianist, vocalist, and composer. Together with his brother, he founded Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestras in 2007. In addition to his post as MCO Dean & Founding Musical Director, he is also a composer-in-residence for MCO, along with his brother. For the past decade, Brandon has devoted his life to educating and training thousands of youth and adults across the western U.S. and has conducted over 100 choral/orchestral performances in concert halls nationwide. He specializes in the proper vocal development of singers of all ages, and he is known for his tenacious, energetic approach to rehearsing and conducting.
Brandon has enjoyed competing in national and international piano competitions throughout his early life. He was second prize winner of the Juilliard Concerto Competition and a finalist in the International USASU Bösendorfer Piano Competition. In 2005 he took first prize at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate piano competition, winning a new Steinway grand piano.
Brandon enjoyed extensive studies in piano, voice, chamber music, and choral music throughout his schooling. He received a master’s degree in piano performance from The Juilliard School and a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. His esteemed mentors include Jerome Lowenthal, Stephen Clapp, Irene Peery-Fox, Clayne Robison, Rosalind Hall, Ronald Staheli, Ted Reid, and Susan Bana.
In addition to his full-time career with MCO, Brandon devotes his energies to his religion, family, and friends. He enjoys being active outdoors in the beautiful horse town of Queen Creek, Arizona, where he resides with his family.
Dr. Brett Stewart
Dean & Founding
California & Texas
Dr. Brett Stewart and his wife Mindy are the parents of seven children. Stewart is a conductor, composer, pianist, and vocalist. Together with his brother, he founded Millennial™ Choirs & Orchestras in 2007. As a Dean & Founding Musical Director for MCO, Stewart travels extensively to all five locales. Along with his brother, he is also a composer-in-residence for MCO, having composed and arranged well over one hundred works for the organization, including the full-length oratorio Messiah in America, and the full-length patriotic work To Be American.
Stewart has taught music to youth and adults for nearly three decades. Prior to founding MCO, Stewart conducted and accompanied various choirs, including University of Cincinnati Men’s Chorus and Chamber Choir, Fountain Valley High School choirs, Meridian School choirs, Brigham Young University Men’s Chorus under Rosalind Hall, Chapman University Concert Choir under Dr. William Hall, and Southern California Children’s Chorus under Lori Loftus.
Stewart received a doctorate degree in choral conducting with cognate studies in composition from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a master’s degree in choral conducting from California State University, Long Beach, and a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. His mentors include Earl Rivers, Stephen Coker, Dale Warland, Shawn Okpebholo, Jonathan Talberg, Ronald Staheli, Rosalind Hall, Jeffrey Shumway, William Hall, Joseph Matthews, Mack Wilberg, Ted Reid, and Susan Bana.
Extremely active and busy with his family and religious life, Stewart devotes his career time exclusively to MCO and other composing projects. For inspiration, he draws from the nature that surrounds him in the northeast Texas countryside where he and his family reside.